University of California, Davis Extension forage specialist Dan Putnam and UC farm advisors had to brush the dust off UC Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources publication No. 8153 before they could distribute research information about one of the newest technologies in agriculture.

“Roundup Ready Alfalfa: An Emerging Technology” is the title of 8153, published in 2004. That emergence was put on hold almost four years ago when a radical group convinced a San Francisco federal judge to stop the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa. The so called watchdog group claimed the U.S. Department of Agriculture must conduct an environmental impact statement. USDA did that, and along the way the Supreme Court overruled the San Francisco judge who halted the sale of the biotech forage seed.

The legal labyrinth took four years to maneuver, but RR alfalfa is back on the market.

Putnam and Western hay market analyst Seth Hoyt do not expect herbicide-resistant varieties to be heavily planted this spring because spring is not the ideal time to plant alfalfa in California and Arizona. Fall is better because of the heavy weed pressure associated with spring planting.

However, UC forage specialists say if growers wanted to plant alfalfa in the spring, RR alfalfa would be a good choice, since spring weeds could be more easily be eliminated with glyphosate-resistant alfalfa rather than using non-Roundup herbicides in conventional alfalfa varieties.

Seed companies are advertising their RR varieties. However, the same radical group that halted sales four years ago has notified USDA it will sue the department for approving RR alfalfa without proper consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the Endangered Species Act. One report indicated the Center for Food Safety was going to go back with its second nuisance lawsuit on the same issue to the same San Francisco federal judge who stopped RR alfalfa seed sales the first time. It is the same judge deemed to be in error by a 7-1  Supreme Court vote.

However, for now, growers can buy and plant RR alfalfa.

Putnam told an audience of farmers and dairymen at a hay and forage seminar at World Ag Expo that the nonrelated sale of RR alfalfa sends a message from government to the industry that it must exercise stewardship to head off weed resistance and prevent genetically modified alfalfa seed and forage contamination into non-GM markets and crops.

Putnam said this new technology provides growers with an unprecedented broad spectrum weed control package that is highly flexible, very environmentally safe and uses an inexpensive herbicide.